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University of Maryland BioPark plans 10-story gateway tower on MLK Blvd.

University of Maryland BioPark plans 10-story gateway tower on MLK Blvd.
A rendering of the 10-story building planned for the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and West Baltimore Street as part of the University of Maryland BioPark. (Handout)

The University of Maryland, Baltimore plans an ambitious expansion of its BioPark, with a $200 million building that will nearly double the size of the life science hub to the west of the main medical campus downtown.

The plans call for a 10-story, 300,000-square-foot tower atop an underground parking garage to be built on two acres at West Baltimore Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, the thoroughfare that separates the BioPark from the university’s professional schools and the rest of downtown.

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The future laboratory and office space in the park is aimed at attracting and maintaining research-based firms that can benefit from university resources or commercialize discoveries made at the university.

“We’re out of space and we want to keep these companies from leaving for the county or the state,” said Gregory Herlong, development director for Wexford Science and Technology, which is developing the new building, the third in the BioPark.

The project is being billed as a “bridge” or “gateway” to the city’s west side, where city officials have been promoting private development to bolster the long-neglected area with only limited success. A large neighboring housing project called Center\West that was seeking to attract university staff and students, as well as BioPark employees, has stalled amid problems with the buildings.

The university has sought to provide benefits to the surrounding neighborhoods by posting jobs and offering classes and other services through a new community center.

The new BioPark tower replaces prior plans for a smaller one proposed a block away on Baltimore Street in the last several years, which the city agreed to support with a $17.5 million city tax subsidy called tax increment financing, or a TIF.

TIFs have become the preferred method for city development subsidies and involve selling low-interest municipal bonds to pay for building infrastructure. They are repaid with taxes from the property, which are put toward the debt instead of to city coffers.

The glass tower is expected to be the largest commercial building in Baltimore with an MLK address. It will be the first of two phases built on that block by Wexford, which maintains a portfolio of university-affiliated medical and life science properties around the country.

The building is winding its way through the city’s approval process, with a stop Thursday for design review at the Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel, and could break ground by the end of the year, Herlong said. There is no timetable for the second phase, which would include more commercial space and apartments.

There are about 1,000 people working in the BioPark now, and that number could double with the expansion, said Jane Shaab, the park’s executive director.

Shaab said university officials decided early on to not just build incubator space to launch companies relying on university resources or researchers or transferring university technology to commercial products. They wanted to support the companies as they grew and help keep them in the city.

Some companies that launched in BioPark buildings likely will expand into the new tower when it opens in 2021, she said. An anchor tenant has committed to move to the building from outside of Baltimore, but Shaab and Herlong declined to identify it.

“We’re going to attract and add life science tenants,” she said, “and keep them.”

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